The Climate Show #16: Keith Hunter on oceans, acids and the carbon cycle

We learned a lot this week, as Professor Keith Hunter of the University of Otago, one of the world’s leading ocean chemists, gave us a masterclass on ocean acidification and what it means for the future of the oceans. Plus we discuss Australia’s new carbon tax, green growth campaigns in New Zealand, why China’s aerosols may have been doing us a favour and why cleaning them up might unleash more warming, and climate models having trouble with rapid climate events. On the solutions front we look at a tiny electric aeroplane setting a new speed record and a solar initiative in NZ. No John Cook in this show, but he’ll be back soon.

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The Climate Show

News & commentary: [0:03:25]

Australia bites the carbon bullet.

Going for Green Growth in NZ

Pure Advantage campaign launched

Green Growth Advisory Group launches discussion document

China’s power stations generate ‘future spike’ in global warming The paper referred to is Reconciling anthropogenic climate change with observed temperature 1998–2008 by Robert K. Kaufmann et al, pdf here.

State-of-the-art climate models are largely untested against actual occurrences of abrupt change. It is a huge leap of faith to assume that simulations of the coming century with these models will provide reliable warning of sudden, catastrophic events.

Al Gore is back: Gore’s Climate Reality project announced it would kick off with a 24-hour live streamed event on 14 September. The day’s events will include a new multimedia presentation by Gore that will “connect the dots” between extreme weather events and climate change, a statement said.

Interview: Professor Keith Hunter of the University of Otago. [0:30:00]

Professor Keith Hunter is New Zealand’s leading scientist in the field of marine and freshwater chemistry. His research interests include the effects of trace metals, both essential and toxic, on the growth of phytoplankton; the marine chemistry of the major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide and marine surfaces (air-water, sediment-water). He directs the joint NIWA-University of Otago Centre of Excellence for Chemical and Physical Oceanography based in the Department of Chemistry, and is involved in several PGSF-funded research programmes.

Skeptical Science series on ocean acidification:

Solutions [01:10:30]

Councils asked to go solar in ‘The Solar Promise’ nationwide campaign launched this week:

Tiny electric airplane sets speed record

Thanks to our media partners:, Scoop and KiwiFM.

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

18 thoughts on “The Climate Show #16: Keith Hunter on oceans, acids and the carbon cycle”

  1. Another great show Gareth & Glen. Keith Hunter comes across as a bit of a character!

    Thomas – put that NH3 alongside the forthcoming hydrogen economy shall I?

  2. Oh and Gareth, Simon Lewis wasn’t one of the co-authors of Kaufmann (2011) -the paper on Asian sulfate aerosols. The newspaper article just uses a comment from Lewis.

    1. Treadgold’s asking for contributions to help bring Monckton to NZ – I’ll give him $20 if he promises NOT to bring Monckton here.

  3. Great show. Thanks for the link to the Kaufmann paper. My previous attempts to get it were stopped at a paywall.

    I’ve never heard the perspective of a chemist on ocean acidification before. It isn’t just the so called “skeptics” who don’t have much to say about this subject. In 1988 when I first started to learn about climate change it was generally thought to be a lucky break for civilization that a significant fraction of emitted CO2 was going into the oceans. That’s for introducing me to Keith Hunter and that series at Skeptical Science.

    Alanna Mitchell, author of “Sea Sick, The Global Ocean in Crisis” was interviewed on the Canadian science show, Quirks and Quarks. Here’s an exerpt from that interview:

    Bob McDonald host: “[so your were saying] this scientist threw up when she realized how bad the problem of acidity in the ocean is. Is that the kind of emotional response, is it something you expected among other scientists you spoke with?”

    Mitchell: “You know, I’ve spent a lot of years interviewing scientists. As you have. They’re usually…. Journalists are usually a lot more alarmist than scientists. Journalists are able to put together pieces and see a big picture more easily and more quickly than scientists can, at least in public. In this case, I was sort of trailing along behind these scientists saying if this is true and this is true then this must be true, and what does it mean for life on Earth? And they would invariably hang their heads, look sick to their stomachs and say, well its the end of life, as we know it, on the planet. If we don’t stop what we are doing.”

    The people talking about what to do about ocean acidification are the clearest voices calling for stabilizing the composition of the atmosphere at levels of CO2 lower than present.

    As I see the political tea leaves of carbon pricing in Australia – keep in mind it is a proposal that hasn’t passed into law yet, if Gillard loses one member of her coalition (if someone jumps ship or dies in a seat the Opposition can win) then her government falls. Abbott is more popular now than she is, and the percentage of Australians saying their first preference is Labour is the lowest in the history of polling in Australia by Nielsen. I write this from the US, where things looked great for climate legislation as Waxman actually got something passed by the House, then it all sunk into a black hole as the political winds shifted.

    Hansen points out in Earth’s Energy Imbalance and Implications that because the actual role of aerosols is so poorly understood, if, for example, the “aerosol forcing is understated by as much as 0.7 W per square meter, it means aerosols have been counteracting half or more of the GHG forcing. In that event, humanity has made itself a Faustian bargain more dangerous than commonly supposed”.

    The way you described what is “commonly supposed” about the “Faustian bargain” on the this show, i.e. GHG forcing is now 450 CO2e but the effect of aerosols cut that back to about 390 CO2e, is to say aerosols mask about 15% of the total GHG forcing.

    Hansen says asking his grandchildren to pick a number for the aerosol value is about as valid a scientific basis to say what the properties of aerosols are as “commonly supposed” numbers he and others have used for things like the IPCC AR4 assessment.

  4. Great comment David, and a huge thumbs up for you Gareth and the rest of your co-workers and affiliates. Another great show!

    Greetings from northern Norway

  5. ack. that link you’ve put up to Kaufmann is wattsupwiththat hosting it on their site for sneer review…. Can anyone supply a link to the paper hosted by someone else?

  6. Another vote for a great show.

    Prof Keith does indeed come across as a character – diametrically the opposite of the sinister Machiavellian evil-genius that many [*cough*] ‘skeptics’ might have us perceive!

    I enjoyed the ‘live’ explanation of ocean chemistry and I’ve been reading the series of posts over at SkS and attempting to come to grips with it all. I’m also reading ‘The Manga Guide to Relativity’ at the moment – don’t laugh, it’s surprisingly good and the series has quite a reputation – and, frankly, I think I’m making more headway with General Relativity! I know the booklet is coming, but perhaps we can look forward to the Manga Guide to Ocean Acidification?! 😉

    Anyway, my own shortcomings aside – and as I’ve said before – the point is that it’s the people who know what they’re talking about in any given field who are the people who know what they’re talking about in any given field . When the PWKWTATA start getting together in big numbers to tell you you have a problem – you have a problem! All else is stupidity…

    Speaking of such – the ones who know, and the ones who have never possessed a clue and wouldn’t recognise one if it sat patiently in their reception area browsing last year’s New Ideas – here’s Hans Schellnhuber being interviewed on Radio National, and here’s the greeting he got in Australia from some glactic dork of the variety that is lucky breathing is involuntary (“I’ve just exhaled – now, what was it that comes next again?…” *wheeze* ‘urk!’)

  7. Thank’s everyone for the positive comments.

    I thoroughly enjoyed my experience on Hot Topic. I’d like to say that the reason I have taken so long to post here is that until June 30, I was the RSNZ VP for Physical Science etc. Thus I did not want my comments to reflect negatively on the RSNZ.

    Now I am free (or more free) to comment. I will have more to say in the future.

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